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Candidates For Chicopee Mayor Disagree On Downtown Safety

Runner-up for Chicopee Mayor Joe Morisstte (left) and new Chicopee Mayor John Vieau (right).
Joseph Morissette: Facebook / John Vieau: City of Chicopee chicopeema.gov
Joseph Morissette at left, and John Vieau at right, both running for the mayoral seat in Chicopee, Massachusetts.

The race to lead Chicopee, Massachusetts, is one of three mayoral elections in western Massachusetts with no incumbent on the ballot.

Richard Kos, who's been mayor for a dozen years over two stints, announced in February he would not seek re-election.

Voters will pick between John Vieau, the city council president, and Joseph Morissette, assistant principal at Chicopee Comprehensive High School. The two faced each other at a recent debate hosted by WGBY.

For Morissette, the most pressing issue for the second-largest city in western Massachusetts is crime, especially in the downtown area.

"We've had — gun calls down there have gone up there in the last five years," Morissette said. "Violent crimes. We've had assaults. It's not a great place to walk at night."

As for Morissette's contention that gun calls have gone up downtown, the Chicopee police say they did spike a few years ago, but have since come down.

Morissette, a former Chicopee policeman, said more officers are needed, but are not available.

"We're losing patrolmen faster than we can hire them," he said. "And that's because of a contract that was negotiated that's not equitable for these young police officers."

During the debate, Vieau countered Morissette's claim.

"He's saying that we're down some officers," Vieau said. "There was a huge amount of hire in the early '80s, and it's causing a lot of retirements right now."

As council president, Vieau has ended up defending the city's record on these issues.

"I do think that there's inadequacies when it comes to pay, but the police officer complement has been increased," Vieau said.

And the department says it is aiming to hire another 14.

Regardless, Vieau said Morissette's assessment of safety downtown is off the mark.

"I have my headquarters downtown and I'm there very late at night," Vieau said. "Do I feel unsafe downtown? Absolutely not."

The Chicopee mayor's race took a strange turn in early October when a former student at Chicopee Comp accused Morissette of outing him.

According to reporting by MassLive, the student was in Morissette's office because of an alleged sexual encounter on school grounds. Morissette left his intercom on, so some of their discussion was broadcast throughout the school.

Morissette said it was inadvertent.

"There was nothing that I made for an announcement that brought anything forward," Morissette said. "It was completely public prior to that."

Morissette said he has an openly gay son, whom he supports. He believes the accusation is politically motivated, especially given the timing.

But Vieau said his hands are clean.

"I can tell you that I sleep well at night knowing that we're running a 100% positive campaign, focused on me as a person, my credentials, running for mayor," Vieau said.

If September's preliminary election is any indication, Vieau may be the favorite. He beat Morissette by more than 16 points.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.
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